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Thinking Pink: The Intricacies of Making Rosé

It’s summer. The weather is warm and if you are like me, your thoughts are turning to more white wines rather than the hearty reds of winter. There is one style which is making a statement this season however and that is Rosé. It’s a beautiful mix of the lightness of a white wine with a bit of classy structure hinting of its origins as red wine grapes. In Provence, one of the world’s foremost Rosé producing regions, exports to the US have risen for 12 straight years with rapid growth in 2015 according to the Wines of Provence organization. The sales data from Nielsen also confirms that rose sales have risen not only in volume by over 50% but value as well over 60% for imported Roses. However, the love of Rose is not just a US phenomenon. Approximately 9% of all wine sold in the UK are rosé wines as well, surprisingly over half of which originate from the US! According to the Drinks Business, over the past 12 years global rosé consumption has increased 20%!Much of this increase arises from rosé’s easy to drink style and ability to so seamlessly pair with foods which require more structure than whites but a lighter body than a red would provide. It also stems from the “pink is for women” stigma finally being shed as dry rosés are being seen as serious wines beyond the sweeter blush styles popular in the 1980s and 90s. So how does Rosé manage to bridge the worlds between white and red so successfully? The answer lies in several different winemaking techniques, each with their own result which can be used independently or together to achieve a desired style of Rosé. There are three main ways to make rosé; Skin Contact and Pressing, Saignée, and Blending.  

 

Skin Contact and Pressing

 

This method is unique because the sole purpose of this method is to make rosé. Unlike Saignée which has some side benefits, this method is employed when a winemaker wants to completely control the amount of structure and color in the rosé to the fullest. It starts by selecting the desired grape variety. In the south of France, such as Tavel this would be Cinsaut or Grenache. In Spain, it would be Garnacha perhaps with some Tempranillo. In the Loire, Cabernet Franc or Pinot Noir may be employed while in the New World, the entire world of reds are open for experimentation. The next step would be to decide how much color and structure to extract from the skins once the fruit is crushed. Often, this is done right in the press with the skins remaining in contact with the juice from 4 hours to as much as 48. Winemakers then sample the juice to determine the color extraction and texture of the tannins before making a pressing decision. After pressing, the juice is treated like a white wine, meaning that it is settled and racked clean of solids at which point it is put into fermentation. Usually the fermentation temperature is on the cooler side to keep the bright fruity aromas from escaping out of the tank during the process. After that, the wine is stabilized, clarified and put to bottle usually quite early in the year.  

 

Saignée

 

Saignée (pronounced Sin-yay) is French meaning “Bleeding”. In this method, rosé is usually a side benefit of making a red wine. Many winemakers use the process of Saignée to concentrate color, flavor, and tannins in a red wine by bleeding off juice. This reduces the skin to juice ratio in the fermentor and allows for a more intense and robust red. The resulting rosé can be quite light in color and it usually has minimal tannin extract from the skins since it is completed so early in the process, within a few hours of crushing the fruit. Because of this, blending different saignee wines is very important to create a final and holistic rosé which will stand on its own.  

 

Blending

 

Blending to make a rosé is when a white and a red wine are blended together to make a rosé wine. The resulting wine can be made in many different styles to suit many tastes and can be combined with the techniques above to layer in complexity and balance in the finished wine. It should be noted, however that blending to make rosé is not allowed in Europe outside of Rosé Champagne so this method is primarily employed in New World regions. Blending in additional red wine with skin contact or saignee rose would add additional structure, body, and color while blending in a white wine will reduce color and structure while adding aromatic fruit lift and palate freshness.  

 

By using one or more of these techniques, winemakers can change the style of their rosé to create their own unique statement. From pale salmon to deep rose and light and fresh to serious and structured, there is a rosé style for every occasion and particular palate. Luckily for all of us, we are just now entering the rosé season and there are plenty to choose from.
Originally written for and posted on Snooth.com. 

The Beginning…

  
After much hard work and dedication plus a considerable amount of faith by Rob Sands, we finally bottled the new 240 Days Riesling and Dry Rose last week. I’m so excited about these two wines since, I believe, they join many of the other top examples of fine wine being made in the region. It is my hope that they will continue to help the amazing momentum that can be felt by all the winemakers in the area. It’s an exciting time to be in the Finger Lakes and I hope these small volumes will continue to grow, looking towards the future of the region. 

The Riesling is off-dry with bright acid and a juicy, fragent fruit nose with rounded structure from 10% neutral barrel fermentation. The long finish is accented by the fresh, zesty acid and generous palate weight. 

The Rose is a blend of Cabernet Franc (95%) and part of the barrel fermented Riesling mentioned above (5%). It is dry with rich berry fruits on the nose and a lightly structured palate brining depth and complexity to the finish. 

I hope you all get a chance to find them in the future. This was a small bottling with the Riesling topping out at 308 cases and the Rose at a mere 70 cases. 

Oh yeah…

  
This is happening too! Just much more slowly than the 240 Days. 

To Age or Not to Age

When you think of drinking wine at the appropriate age, what picture comes to mind? Usually it is a red wine. Maybe a decanter is involved? It’s a special occasion or with friends and family. However, not all wine is designed to age a long time. I have heard so many stories of people saving a bottle of wine that they were given as a gift only to open it at some far later date to be absolutely horrified by what they smelled and tasted in the bottle. I’ll tell you a secret. Most wine is not meant to age beyond 1-2 years. However I will also tell you that you can probably figure out what type you are dealing with if you understand a bit about what makes wine appropriate to age.

How Do Wines Age? 

Wines age quite a lot like humans do. They go through a youthful phase, the prime of middle age, and the elegant sunset of old age. A youthful wine will still have bright fruit aromas, called primary aromas, and a core color without any browning leaving pure lemon-green in white wines and purple, sometimes blue, hues in red wines on the rim of the wine. Wines in middle age are known as having developing aromas. This is when the primary aromas start to be complemented (or not) by secondary aromas from the winemaking process such as oak spice or toast from lees as well as the beginning of bottle age aromas. The bottle age aromas are called tertiary aromas and usually show up in Cabernet as dried figs, nutty characters, or cedar characters. Each variety has its own tertiary aroma signature as it ages. Wines in middle age often start to show a browning on the rim which translates as gold in white wines or garnet in red wines. Wines coming to the end of their age cycle will be largely defined by their tertiary aromas with the rare exceptions of truly amazing wines which may still hint at the primary fruit of their youth. White wines of this level will likely be quite gold edging towards amber colored while red wines are fully garnet with tawny colored rims. This cycle’s timing depends on the wine and its key components which help the aging process. What are these key components? Tannin, acid, and sugar.  

Tannin

What is tannin? Tannin is an antioxidant compound found naturally in grapes and these compounds are transferred into the wine during the fermentation process. White wines have very little to no tannin which is why it is usually red wines that come to mind when one thinks of long term aging. Tannin naturally protects the wine from oxygen, which as a wine ages becomes more detrimental to wine quality. Wines with high levels of natural tannin are better prepared to withstand these effects of aging. Just like sunscreen protects us from the UV rays of the sun, the tannins protect the wine from oxygen thus slowing its maturation and allowing it to age more slowly. The higher the level of natural tannin, the more intense the protection which is why Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo age so well. How does this explain how Pinot Noir, a relatively low tannin variety, ages so well? Keep reading…

Acid

Like Tannin, acid is a key component of aging. A low pH coming from high acid levels contributes to the microbial stability of a wine. More importantly it also chemically slows the rate which oxidation reactions can occur which continues to decrease with an increasingly lower pH. Thus wines with low pHs age more slowly and have an increased life span than wines with higher pHs if all other components are equal. Low pHs are one of the main reasons that Rieslings and Hunter Valley Semillons age so well in addition to low tannin reds such as Pinot Noir. They are low in tannin but relatively low in pH which allows them to age more slowly.

Sugar

High levels of sugar are very helpful to aging. This comes down to osmotic pressure. What is osmotic pressure? Say you have a yeast cell. That yeast cell has a very low level of sugar inside it. Then you put it in an environment that is very high sugar. Cells naturally want to create an equilibrium between the inside and the solution that surrounds them. All the water rushes out of the cell and poof! No more yeast cell. The high level of sugar (plus pH as mentioned above) protects the wine from refermentation. A lack of microbial activity increases a wine’s ability to age further. Now when we say high sugar we are not talking about White Zin which usually runs around 26-35 grams per Liter. We are talking 80+ grams per Liter of sugar. For reference, Sodas can run a little over 100 grams per Liter. However, sugar alone will not help a wine. It needs to be sugar plus a low pH on a top quality wine. Think Botrytis affected wines such as Sauternes, Tokaji, or Trockenbeerenauslese. Icewines also benefit from this protection.  

Wines at least two of the above three components will have a better chance of long term aging success than wines with only one or none of the above. That being said, the wine needs to be a style which will improve or get more interesting with age. Varieties such as Muscato really benefit from being youthful when consumed so they should be enjoyed while still fresh and fruity. However, if you happen to like the characters of 10 year old Muscat then that’s great! Drink wines when you want to enjoy them, in whatever stage of life they may be. Don’t wait for the perfect moment when that moment may be now if that is when you want to drink that special bottle.

How old is your oldest bottle of wine? Tell me in the comments.

Originally written for and posted on Snooth.com